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Do Grief Support Groups Help or Harm? [60 Sec Psych]

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Your patient is experiencing profound grief after the death of his wife. He can’t afford individual therapy and wonders if a support group can help. Will talking about grief to a room of strangers just trigger him more, or will it help? This metanalysis of 14 randomized controlled trials has an answer. Maass U, Hofmann L, Perlinger J, Wagner B. Effects of bereavement groups-a systematic review and meta-analysis. Death Stud. 2020;1‐11. [Link]

Published On: 6/26/20

Duration: 1 minute, 34 seconds

Transcript:

Your patient is experiencing profound grief after the death of his wife. He can’t afford individual therapy and wonders if a support group can help. Will talking about grief to a room of strangers just trigger him more, or will it help? This metanalysis of 14 randomized controlled trials has an answer.

Grief support groups do work, but the effect is only marginal, with an effect size of 0.3, and that benefit was no longer significant with longer-term follow up after the group ended. Individual therapy, however, was more effective for grief.

So yes, you can tell your patient it might work, but look out for those who may get worse in a support group. The authors warn that hearing other people’s stories of grief may worsen the patient’s distress. Patients with complex grief ─ which is more like a post-traumatic reaction to the death of a loved one ─ may come away feeling like they have it even worse than the rest of the group. Group leaders may not be able to contain group dynamics like jealousy and competitiveness. When I recommend grief groups, I advice people to make them time limited, otherwise the group can turn into the patient’s primary social support, and the grief-stricken state may become their new identity.

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